Unlike the postseason NIT, the Season Tip-Off doesn’t exactly have the luxury of seeding teams fairly by their body of work during a season.
So how did the NIT selection committee come up with the Arizona Wildcats as the No. 1 seed for its Season Tip-Off event?
“We just had to make the call and we voted,” NIT committee chair C.M. Newton told the Star today. “We have an eight-member committee and that’s how it came out. As I recall it was very close but Arizona got more No. 1 votes.”
Since the NCAA took over the NIT tournaments in 2005, both NIT tournaments have been seeded in traditional tournament style instead of being slanted for television coverage or fan-drawing potential.
But in this case, Newton said, the NIT was forced to put UA in a potential second-round game with fifth-seeded Rhode Island, despite the face that the Wildcats are the top seed.
“That could happen,” Newton said.
It probably will. UA’s first opponent, Fairleigh Dickinson, has finished last or next to last in the Northeast Conference in the past three seasons. Rhode Island gets to face Division II Metro State in its first game, because Newton said it proved too difficult to fill out the bracket with all Division I teams.
“We had Division II last year and this is an issue because Division I mid-majors, particularly in the West, are wanting considerable money to play in the preseason tournament,” said Newton, a longtime college basketball figure. “We just don’t have as much money to deal with. We waited on Division I teams and got tired of waiting.”
The good news for Arizona is that, other than the opener against Fairleigh Dickinson, the NIT as a whole could improve UA’s RPI. Rhode Island is expected to be a sub-150 RPI team and a game against Metro State would not count in the RPI because it is a Division II team.
If UA wins its first two games, a semifinal game against somebody from the Rutgers pod (Rutgers, Canisius, Elon, Drexel) could hurt the Wildcats’ RPI but a potential final with Duke could become UA’s top hang-your-hat-on-it opportunity for NCAA seeding consideration down the road.
And considering that UA has a chance to pave an all-SoCal route to the Final Four (via NCAA sites in San Diego and Anaheim, Calif.), the Wildcats probably want to take advantage of any opportunity they can get to establish themselves as the West’s top seed.
There's more detail on the NIT Season Tip-Off on the previous blog thread if you missed it.